You’d be amazed at how I could name all those stars. When I was 12 years old, one of my most prominent childhood memories involved showing you how to map the stars beyond our solar system. I could tell you about distant galaxies you’d never heard of.
For example, you could ask me to chart for you the best route from Earth to Gamma Serpentis I. Then I’d simply ask you whether you’d prefer a re-fueling pit stop at the Shofixti (marsupial-like aliens) homeworld on Delta Gorno I. Better, I could definitely tell you the secrets of those stars—the location of every single secret rainbow world there was. And in Grade 4, discovering those locations could change your life.
Now, if you asked me about this star map during recess (or quietly during class), I’d reproduce it to you with incredible exuberance on our Hilroy exercise books or wrinkly scrap paper stuffed inside my wooden desk.
Funny enough, this was one of my proudest memories as a geeky kid, all thanks to an old 1992 computer game called Star Control 2. The aliens might be fictional, and the actual map is likely inaccurate, but those star names are, to the credit of the developers and writers, mostly taken from actual names of stars.
Reproducing that star map was about more than just showing off how cool I was as a 12 year old pipsqueak. I think it’s important to be kind to my younger self! In fact, I genuinely believed I could help friends such as you with my vast, world-changing knowledge. After all, I could tell you where to find Rainbow worlds.
Childhood Memories and Identity: Deeper Thoughts
If you’ve taken a Psychology 101 course, you might be somewhat familiar with Alfred Adler’s theory about the importance of our earliest memories. While my Star Control 2 memory is not among my earliest memories, it was nonetheless a significant “early enough” memory that I believe still strongly influences me today. Academic sticklers for accuracy aside, I’d argue that Adler’s ideas still apply to my memory of star maps.
In one of Heinz Anbacher’s (a colleague of Adler) papers, he states that our earliest memories:
“show the individual how he typically acts and
faces the future, and that he carries this picture with him as a memento
or warning from his childhood, for future action.”
It’s important to state how our earliest (or early enough) memories do not so much choose ‘us’. Even though we do not have control over what happened to us (e.g. we can’t choose where we were born or how we were brought up), we can choose how we respond to a particular early memory (or several of them). In that way, we are the authors of our own narratives, and how I choose to “see” our childhood memories colours our present choices, attitudes, beliefs and identities.
In other words, even if we feel overwhelmed with grief about a traumatic incident that might have happened to us in the past, we get to choose how we treat ourselves in response to that. Do we shame ourselves or blame others? Do we seek self-compassion or allow ourselves to bathe in hate and resentment? Do we pursue justice or vengeance? Do we learn helplessness or learn hopefulness?
Of course, when we’re in the deepest throes of our pain, it’s never so easy to make that choice–I know this well. But when we’re genuinely ready to, I believe these are important questions to ask for our own healing. I reflect more on grief and trauma (in my story) in other posts about how hate can betray us after surviving infidelity & divorce, remembering my late mother who died far too early, and the importance of self-compassion during grief…so I won’t dive into it here.
Now, some scholars might suggest how Adler’s theories are seen as important precursors to contemporary psychological perspectives, and require a deeper dialogue with more contemporary theories within the context of 2018 society. At the same time, I believe there’s still substantial value in what we consider or remember as an ‘earliest memory’, however beautiful, tragic, traumatic, light-hearted or mundane.
Perhaps you most remember with a smile your mom singing to you about sleepy pigs as she tucked you in.
Or maybe all you remember is the loneliness and sorrow you felt wandering with your mom on those old streets in Northern China starving for rice, and delighting at finding 1 yuan (15 cents in USD, as of today’s writing), beside your torn-up shoes.
Whatever you do most remember, I’d say, along with Adler, that it can profoundly affect how we see the world, weave through our relationships, and envision of life purpose.
By the way, travelling from nerdy to serious at lightspeed (or ludicrous speed for Spaceballs fans), is just how my brain works, so, I appreciate you space-jumping with me. Kindly allow me to unpack some of these reflections.
Childhood Memories, Proud Moments, & Different Ways of Seeing
Today, even though I really don’t remember this star map anymore, I remember the feelings I had about once being able to reproduce it for you in striking detail.
I also remember how important it was for me to help you. As a sweet kid (well, I like think so), I genuinely believed that I could make your day better with this knowledge. I also wanted to protect you best I could, just like Optimus taught me to. Though this was decades before the spawning of demogorgons, I desperately wanted to warn you about the sinister Ur-Quan that wanted to conquer the universe. Maybe you didn’t need any of that knowledge, which is cool. But if you did, I was more than happy to share.
I remember all those feelings, and the general story that I’ve constructed about that proud moment. For me, this memory of space, the stars, and my role within it reveals to me what I consider important for me today. I still believe in helping others, if I’m able to.
And, perhaps in some timey-wimey way, part of me believes that I still have some sort of star-map to share with you. I’m not yet sure if that’s indeed one reason why I remember this, but if it’s true, then I’d like to share with you how I’ve learned to map out the stars of some of our most joyful and painful human experiences.
I’m not as egocentric as I was when I was 12 years old, to believe that I have anywhere near all the answers. Obviously not. But I’ve learned a lot in my own personal journey of reflection, reading, and learning. And I’ve discovered all sorts of different ways to voyage across the many worlds of emotional experience and hardship that so often fade into our most secret and forgotten spaces of our psyche.
As I conclude, it still feels important for me today to perhaps spark within you and me, a way of seeing this world differently. Whether through heartbreak, deep grief, a longing for home, the emptiness of deep loneliness, or the eradication of a life you once knew; whether it be finding rainbow worlds, crafting their starships, or befriending those you never expected…there are many different directions you (and I) could travel together, to discover all of the universe’s wonders while mindfully resolving to maneuver through life’s inevitable pains and unavoidable traumas, and if possible, parry and prevent all those more unnecessary moments of suffering.
Even though I’ve had my own share of deep suffering (as I’m sure you have), I believe that’s all the more reason to keep close to us, those mundane, silly, and perhaps nerdiest childhood memories that remind us what we love most about ourselves.
What about you? What kinds of silly, deep, or thought-provoking memories from your past most stand-out for you?